In one of the houses on Carrer Sanpere i Miquel in Barcelona’s Horta neighbourhood, one local resident who was tired from the heat, took a shower and heard someone singing opera. He also started to sing whilst he finished his shower. Later on, when he left his house, he told other local residents and shopkeepers about it, and they told him that a soloist was the person singing in the street. He was surprised. It is not often that someone performs famous arias on the street below his house. It was Ave Maria, from Othello, composed by Verdi.
In Barcelona, every Friday afternoon, except for the days between mid July and 21 September, the shops associated with the 21 commercial hubs are transformed into an opera stage. Last Friday it was the turn of the Horta neighbourhood, and the shops associated with the Cor d’Horta hub. It is part of the programme “Opera in shops”, an initiative from The year of Commerce and Culture, organised by Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Commerce Foundation with the collaboration of Òpera Jove de Catalunya.
Nuria and Adela, shopkeepers that are practically next door to each other on the street, have loved the initiative and Adela says “there should be more activities like these, because they are different from all the usual activities that go on”. Nuria, who has enjoyed it as much if not more than her neighbour, is happy that it has attracted people to the area.
Opera, a unique discovery
Ariadna is not from the neighbourhood. She came to see a friend, she had told her that there were opera performances happening on the streets of Horta and the two of them decided to walk the route past the shops where the performers were. In a restaurant on Carrer Tajo, they enjoy a refreshing drink while soloist Joan Sebastià prepares for his next performance: Non più andrai,from the Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart. He says there are not many popular pieces for baritones but he knows this one, he likes it and he finds it agile enough not to damage his voice during the afternoon recital as, in the evening, he has another performance. Ariadna thinks that performing opera in shops and on the street for local residents and customers is a good initiative because it brings culture closer to people and it also gives her the opportunity to hear music that she likes.
Like her and her friend, other local residents from Horta follow similar routes in an attempt to hear the ten different pieces being performed by the soloists in the neighbourhood, one for each participating shop. The arias being performed are well-known and the quality of the performances is outstanding.
A lyrical route
The arias are short in length, long enough so you can walk the whole route without rushing, but after hearing one, the locals make comments, stop to chat, encourage others to join them until they realise that if they don’t get a move on they might not make it round the whole lyrical route. On Carrer Feliu i Codina, local residents sit on a bench outside the shop window where Charo Picazo sings “Song to the Moon”, from Rusalka, written by Dvorák. Since the lyrics are in Czech, she has to watch her pronunciation. But it is the soloist’s favourite piece, with which she has won competitions. Another Charo delights customers in a bar in Plaça Eivissa, as they love how she performs Tu che di gel sei cinta, from Turandot, by Puccini, in a recital that includes may other compositions.
Raquel, promoter of the Cor d’Horta association,applauds the ‘Opera in the shops’ initiative because it has been a big success, and like Adela and Nuria, she calls for more activities like this in the city, whether it be part of the year of Commerce and Culture or other experiences.
Samuel performs in Plaça Bacardí, singing No puede ser from the Zarzuela La tabernera del Puerto, by Pablo Sorozábal. He goes to singing lessons and this piece gives him the opportunity to put into practice what he is learning as a tenor, and the chance to be in direct contact with the public, noting their reaction as they listen to him. For local residents, having a musician perform just for them is a small luxury that needs to be enjoyed slowly. Sip by sip.
Mireia, who like many of those performing in Horta, is a professional singer who performs in theatres and at galas, attacks O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi, by Puccini with a delicacy that surprises Jose Luis, owner of the jewellers on Passeig Maragall. There is a red rug outside the establishment on which he has placed a flower pot with flowers in. There’s a football match on TV which makes for serious competition, but he is happy because he says the performances bring the business and the neighbourhood to life, and he knows that the audience grows as the afternoon goes on.
Carlota sings Quando me’n vo from La Bohème, by Puccini, and while she performs, Anna, a fashion retailer, says she feels better because she’d started the afternoon stressed and with a headache. She says she’s really enjoyed it and says that her customers were really keen to try on clothes whilst listening to the opera. Meanwhile, on Carrer Lisboa, Casta Diva, from Norma, by Bellini, can be heard, performed by Natasha, and the people crossing the street stop to listen. And then there’s Cèsar, who sings Una furtiva lágrima, from l’Elisir d’amore, by Donizetti on Carrer de les Lletres, whilst the owner of the herbalist’s offers customers tea and orxata. Fernando, in the centre of Plaça Eivissa, with a powerful voice, recites an aria from Don Giovanni, by Mozart. A happy audience applauds the alliance between opera and retail. On 14 July it is the turn of the businesses in the Maragall hub, with the final performance before summer kicks in. Opera in shops is back on 21 September in the Poblenou hub.